Friday, January 19, 2007

Congressional Procession of Iraq Proposals Likely to Lead Nowhere

By Dana Milbank

Thursday, January 18, 2007; A02

"You cannot run a war by committee," Vice President Cheney said over the weekend.

Oh? Just watch them.

Lawmakers were introducing Iraq legislation at a mad pace yesterday, at one point in the afternoon scheduling news conferences in half-hour intervals. By the end of the day, they had issued more bills than Pepco.

Early risers saw Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) in the Senate television gallery introducing his proposal to limit U.S. troops in Iraq to 130,000 and to hold a vote on whether to reauthorize the war. Those who lingered until lunchtime could catch Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and other House liberals demanding a withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq within six months.

Booking the Senate TV studio at 2:30 p.m. were Sens. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), with their own Iraq resolution. They had to vacate the room at 3 p.m. for the arrival of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.); Clinton floated a variation of the Dodd plan. Minutes after that session, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) issued a statement announcing legislation ordering a "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Even Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who gave up his Senate seat, tried to get a piece of the action yesterday. His campaign sent out a fundraising appeal, asking: "Please chip in to help stop this escalation today."

The parade of lawmakers past the microphones lured a crowd to the Senate TV studio, where nearly 200 reporters and staffers squeezed four deep in the aisles; scores more were stuck outside. "I'm not going to have any senators in here before I have order in this room!" cried the gallery director.

But the excitement was misplaced. For all the bills introduced yesterday, none is likely to force President Bush to change course in Iraq. Proposals such as Biden's are "nonbinding" and others don't have enough votes to pass. "There is very little chance in the short run that we are going to pass any legislation," Clinton confided during her news conference. Asked to elaborate, she explained: "I can count."

If anything, the competing proposals could strengthen Bush's hand. Though largely united in opposition to Bush's plan, members of Congress, carved up by the presidential ambitions of Clinton, Obama, Dodd, Biden and others, can't unite around an alternative.

"Look," McHugh acknowledged in his appearance with Clinton and Bayh yesterday, "Congress right now has no effective role in this process."

Dodd, who last week declared his presidential bid on "Imus in the Morning," was the first to demonstrate McHugh's thesis. "It is time," he said at his morning news conference, to "offer meaningful action." He would require a new war authorization.

So would he enforce this by cutting off funding for the war?

"No, we've stayed away from the funding here," Dodd answered.

Any co-sponsors? "I haven't asked."

How about supporters in the House? "I haven't talked to anyone on the House side about it, either."

Next in the Senate TV studio: Biden, another Democratic presidential candidate, introducing his nonbinding resolution. Unlike Dodd, Biden had co-sponsors, but he could not remember everybody's name.

"Good afternoon, folks," he began. "Today, Senator Hagel and Senator Lugar and I . . ."

"Levin," Levin corrected him.

"Levin!" Biden agreed, putting his arm around Levin. "Jiminy Christmas. I just left Lugar."

The difficulties were just beginning. "If you feel so strongly, why a symbolic, nonbinding resolution?" asked ABC News's Jake Tapper.

Biden reasoned: "I cannot believe that the president of the United States would not pay heed to a bipartisan resolution passed by the United States, notwithstanding it's not binding."

Senate gallery rules are binding, however, and Biden's group vacated the room at 3:01 p.m. because the Clinton entourage had booked the studio. The New York senator wasted little time dismissing the Biden plan.

"I certainly will support that," she said. "But from what I've heard out of the administration thus far, I think we will eventually have to move to tougher requirements on the administration to get their attention." One of her tougher requirements: the limit on troop levels.

But even one of the participants in Clinton's news conference wasn't necessarily on board with that. Additional troops "may already be in theater," McHugh said. "And I'd be hard-pressed to vote, while they are there, to say: 'Well, we have concerns about your mission.' "

The former first lady had no illusions that her plan would become law. "This is a work in progress," she told questioners. Still, she did have confidence in one prediction: "Others will come forward, you know, in the days ahead."

In the minutes ahead, as it turned out. Clinton had barely left the studio when Obama, who may be her presidential rival, sent out a press release one-upping her. "I not only favor capping the number U.S. troops in Iraq, but believe it's imperative that we begin the phased redeployment I called for two months ago," he said, "and intend to introduce legislation that does just that."

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